Slingshot pokes copyright hornets' nest with its Global Mode

Internet service provider (ISP) Slingshot is pushing the boundaries and risks stirring up the wrath of of the TV and movie industry with its Global Mode product, which helps users circumvent location-based restrictions placed on overseas content.

Global Mode masks the IP addresses of Slingshot users to make it seem like it's coming from the UK or US, which means they can access geolocked content on services such as Hulu, Netflix and BBC iPlayer. The add on is free for existing Slingshot broadband customers. 

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The ISP says Global Mode is aimed at visitors from other countries to enjoy the content they would otherwise have access to back home, however there's nothing stopping a New Zealander using the service to access restricted content. This could see Slingshot in the line of fire from major copyright holders in the US and UK, says AJ Park partner Matt Adams.

"Slingshot is going out on a limb here by taking no action to verify whether [its] users should have access to this overseas content ... In general, it's an infringement of copyright to stream content without the permission of the IP holder," he says.

Adams says it's unlikely that a major content company will launch legal proceedings against individual New Zealanders, especially considering they are still making money from those customers. However, it's a whole different equation when it comes to the country's third largest ISP offering free tools to circumvent geo-restrictions en masse.

"Imagine a Slingshot household that's able to watch shows such as Game of Thrones before it broadcasts here. What would be their incentive to then to pay a New Zealand broadcaster to watch it?

"What this does is devalue the transmission rights New Zealand companies such as Sky has. If it becomes prevalent, they'll be asking why they're paying so much for content that's not unique," says Adams.

As yet there haven't been any test cases in New Zealand to make it clear whether Slingshot or  . Adams says existing copyright law is still murky on this matter.

New Zealand's Copyright Act 1994 prohibits circumventing technical protection measures (TPM) placed on a piece of copyrighted content, however it does not count processes stopping the playback of content in New Zealand as a TPM.

"What we'll probably see is a test case in the next year ... likely from Netflix or iTunes or content creators themselves," says Adams.

Adams adds that although the Copyright Act may not be in breach, users may be breaking their contracts with content providers by access it from New Zealand.